Sitaram Kesri bless his troubled soul, from his vantage point in…errr…heaven (?) is surely laughing at Sonia Gandhi’s predicament. If party stalwarts of the Indira-Rajiv era – Pranab Mukherjee, Sharad Pawar and Jitendra Prasad, frightened by the prospect of political wilderness under Sitaram Kesri’s inept leadership, or worse, having to see one of them ascend to the throne, made common cause with Sonia Gandhi’s domestic minion Vincent George to plot and execute poor Sitaram Kesri’s humiliating eviction in 1996, the new breed of empire loyalists – Anand Sharma, Ajay Maken, Digvijay Singh and Abhishek Manu Singhvi have been let loose by Sonia Gandhi on Jayanthi Natarajan.
In 1996, Sonia Gandhi’s path was speedily cleared of all thorns and threats; we can be sure she will do the same for her son now. Rajesh Pilot and Madhav Rao Scindia’s untimely deaths were fortuitous for the new regime; Pranab Mukherjee persisted with the empire loyalist mask until he was elevated to the Rashtrapati Bhavan; Jitendra Prasada died unexpectedly in the midst of his hectic anti-Sonia Gandhi campaign while wily Sharad Pawar distanced himself far enough from Sonia Gandhi to do his own thing but not too far away that he could not carve out a political niche for himself within the erstwhile Indian Nouveau Roman Empire. G Karuppaiah Moopanar alone, also of the old guard resigned from the Congress when Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister in protest against the Congress’ decision to ally with the AIADMK; he refused ministerial posts in the Indira-Rajiv governments, refused to become Prime Minister after the Deve Gowda government fell; instead, being a proud man, GK Moopanar moved to Chennai to start Tamil Manila Congress or the TMC.
Jayanthi Natarajan was confronting a determined usurper and even if this is simply a case of thieves falling out, we must hand it to Jayanthi Natarajan for refusing to turn over meekly like Sitaram Kesri and play dead. Jayanthi Natarajan, until yesterday an empire loyalist, hit back at the Roman Empire by going public with a letter she wrote to Sonia Gandhi on 5 November 2014 with the clear message, “if I go down for corruption, I take your son (and you by implication) down with me”.
If Sonia Gandhi in her manic ambition to rule a country and a people not her own had no qualms about letting her thugs lock up the elderly Sitaram Kesri in the bathroom to usurp the Congress president chair, she has even less qualms now about throwing Jayanthi Natarajan to the lions in the Colosseum. How Sonia Gandhi deals with this threat remains to be seen; but given her past success in removing all thorns from her path, Jayanthi Natarajan may still be neutralised. It is just as likely that woman to woman, Jayanthi Natarajan may yet prove to be Sonia’s Nemesis. “If pushed to a corner”, declared a grim-faced Jayanthi Natarajan on Times Now, “I will not hesitate to make public all communications between me and Rahul Gandhi’s office. I can assure you, I can take care of myself”.
Regional satraps should not break the Delhi glass ceiling
Sitaram Kesri from his vantage seat up above has another reason to laugh too. The Gandhi glue is melting and the Congress is coming unstuck now in the exact same manner it came unstuck after Rajiv Gandhi’s death. First to cry ‘nay’ was Jaganmohan Reddy, son of Sonia Gandhi loyalist and now deceased “Samuel” Rajasekhara Reddy, Seventh Day Adventist Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh.
When “Samuel” Rajasekhara Reddy died an untimely and wholly unexpected death (another one in the Congress) in a helicopter crash in September 2009, his son Jaganmohan Reddy, to keep his father’s little fiefdom intact for himself and his family, announced his plan to undertake “odarpu yatra” or a condolence yatra, across Andhra Pradesh to cash in on his father’s death and strengthen his own position within the party and the state leadership.
Sensing new danger, Sonia Gandhi refused permission to Jaganmohan Reddy to undertake the condolence yatra. Needless to say Jaganmohan Reddy was sitting on mountains of ill-gotten wealth which he was not prepared to share with New Delhi and therefore did not need Sonia Gandhi to become a power-centre in his own right in Andhra Pradesh. Refusing to play second fiddle to the Delhi dynasty and cock s(ec)ure of his late father’s money-powered clout in Andhra Pradesh, Jaganmohan Reddy quit the Congress to do his own thing.
He and his mother took charge of YSR Congress, a political outfit founded by one Siva Kumar, a Samuel Reddy loyalist. Jaganmohan Reddy’s resignation from Sonia Gandhi’s Congress and his rapid rise in Andhra Pradesh politics inflicted a deadly blow to the state Congress which was kept afloat only by the continuing pre-eminence of Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi. Just so Jagan Reddy and all other “sons” posing a threat to her own son’s right to be heir, got the message that power and all benefits of power must be disclosed and shared with New Delhi, Sonia Gandhi unleashed the CBI against Jagan Reddy. Jagan Reddy, his father’s slavish loyalty to Sonia Gandhi counting for nothing was arrested for disproportionate assets under the Prevention of Corruption Act and lodged in jail. Sonia Gandhi and her CBI kept Jagan Reddy in jail from May 2012 to September 2013 like they kept Kanimozhi, the daughter of another ambitious regional satrap who was also arrested by the CBI in the 2G Spectrum case and spent six months in jail from May 2011 till 29 November, 2011.
The next to cry foul and quit the Congress was GK Vasan. Few remember that in total contradiction to his late father’s reason to resign from the Congress, GK Vasan, after GK Moopanar’s death in August 2001, swallowed his father’s pride, buried his father’s proud legacy and merged TMC with Sonia’s Congress in 2002.
After Sonia Congress’ comprehensive drubbing in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when she and Rahul Gandhi refused to step down as President and Vice President of the party, and when Sonia Gandhi and her son continued with dynasty political-business-as-usual, sending the strong signal that regional satraps should remain confined to their regions and should not attempt to knock down the Delhi glass ceiling, GK Vasan too quit Sonia’s Congress in November 2014.
The similarities between how Sonia Gandhi dealt with Jaganmohan Reddy and GK Vasan are too obvious to be missed. Jaganmohan Reddy wanted to strengthen the state Congress (and himself in the process) using his father’s name. GK Vasan too wanted to strengthen the TN Congress (and himself in the process) after the Congress lost the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, by launching a membership drive with the pictures of GK Moopanar and K Kamraj on the membership card instead of pictures of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Sensing the same danger, Sonia Gandhi expelled GK Vasan from the Congress.
In all the noise over Jayanthi Natarajan’s resignation and the cacophony from the hounds of war let loose by Sonia Gandhi to mount a no-holds-barred-attack against Jayanthi Natarajan, P Chidambaram has become conspicuous by his silence on the issue considering he and Jayanthi Natarajan are old friends and colleagues from the same state and practicing the same profession. However, as if to make up for his father’s silence, Karti Chidambaram, incidentally Kanimozhi’s good friend, has begun to voice murmurs of discontent. On the 22 January, Karti Chidambaram convened a meeting of all his father’s loyalists over lunch where he and his supporters were supposed to have expressed serious discontent with the party high command. Karti Chidambaram was served with a show cause notice by the Pradesh Congress President. That situation is developing yet. It is now clear that sons of regional satraps are not willing to stand waiting at the kitchen doors while Sonia Gandhi and her son continue to sit at the Congress high table.
L’affaire Jayanthi Natarajan: Going beyond the cacophony
What Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are doing to Jayanthi Natarajan must be placed against this background. It speaks volumes for Sonia Gandhi’s unmatched talent for bribing, buying and silencing dissent that while her ministers were accused of corruption and went to jail or were expelled from the party, she and her family, including her son and son-in-law were never found guilty, were not held to account and have not spent a single day or night in jail. Not even in Modi Sarkar’s times.
The case against Jayanthi Natarajan is two-fold. She sat on files and she moved files to Chennai. As a good friend put it caustically, Jayanthi Natarajan’s corruption falls under two broad categories – positive corruption and negative corruption. Positive corruption is – you pay me money, I will clear your files. Negative corruption is – you don’t pay me money, I won’t clear your files. The high points of the case:
- Jayanthi Natarajan sat on several files, the most prominent among them being Lavasa, Vedanta, Nirma Cement, Adani projects and GVK power project.
- Jayanthi Natarajan was summoned by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his office on 20 December 2013 and asked to put in her resignation papers.
- Manmohan Singh tells her, he is not demanding her resignation but Sonia Gandhi wants her to step down to focus on party work in preparation for the coming general elections.
- Jayanthi Natarajan, a self-proclaimed Gandhi family loyalist, steps down promptly.
- The next day, on 21 December, Rahul Gandhi addresses CEOs and industrialists at a FICCI event where he says that now all bottlenecks with regard to environmental clearances have been removed (meaning with Jayanthi Natarjan’s resignation) and that all stalled projects will now be given speedy clearances so that they may begin work.
- Jayanthi Natarajan says all the stalled projects were stalled and environmental clearances not given at the express instructions and directives from Rahul Gandhi.
- Jayanthi is also stripped of her position as Congress spokesperson and she is left alone in political wilderness.
- Within days of GK Vasan quitting the Congress party/expelled from the Congress party (depends on who is saying it) Jayanthi Natarajan writes a tearful and plaintive letter to Sonia Gandhi–the contents of said letter already in the public domain.
- The question now is – why did Jayanthi Natarajan wait for two months before she went public with all the sordid details? And why did she go public just on the eve of Delhi state elections?
Not Jayanti Tax but Sonia Tax
What we should not forget is that Narendra Modi considered Jayanthi Natarajan to be corrupt when he referred to “Jayanthi Tax” in one of his election speeches. Be it as that maybe. But Jayanthi Natarajan has now quit the Congress not because she had a conscience but she, like Jaganmohan Reddy refused to pay Sonia Tax.
Sonia Gandhi gave all her men and women the freedom to practice corruption with two riders – that they do not rock her throne and not question her choice of heir apparent, and that they pay Sonia Tax from the bounty they scalp from the rich and the poor alike. When Rahul Gandhi issued directives to Jayanthi Natarajan not to clear some projects, he was guilty of negative corruption; when at the FICCI meeting of industrialists he told India Inc. that their projects would now be cleared, he was guilty of positive corruption because the new Minister of State was prepared to pay Sonia Tax.
Jayanti Natarajan didn’t and suffered for it. And now she’s having her payback time.
Radha Rajan is a Chennai-based political analyst. She is also author and animal activist.